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Under the auspices of greatness: the 11th Geneva Forum at the UN headquarters

Written by James Mager, UNA-Canada Service Corps delegate

Awestruck: the word to best describe my experience at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Alongside my Canadian Service Corps peers, Fallon Hayes and Kelsey Kliparchuk, and lead by our intrepid guide, Jessica Helwig, I had the privilege of representing the UNA-Canada at the 11th Geneva Forum. It was a journey of personal and professional development, and a crash-coarse in international relations that will retain its importance indefinitely. The experience began with a week of training in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa. We were welcomed by the gracious staff of the UNAC and provided with the “dos and don'ts” for success. Working in the shadow of the Parliament was a treat for a nongovernment worker (and tourist) like myself. Between safety briefings, parliamentary tours and a meeting with Ambassador Salome Meyer, the Swiss ambassador to Canada, the pace was nonstop and challenging. In a few short days, the UNAC endowed us with the essentials and sent us packing; next stop, Switzerland.

Geneva can be a puzzling place; geographically sandwiched between France and Italy, we were told (by the locals) that it differs greatly from the rest of Switzerland. It is posh, modern and glitzy, but has maintained an old world feel. Small pockets of counterculture still exist—in neighbourhoods like Les Grottes and Carouge—but its elite qualities are visible from all angles. Walking through the city you will pass: the Rolex headquarters, fancy cars and restaurants, and a bevy of incredibly well-dressed people. It is not a city for the faint of heart (or wallet).

But the more immediate and impressive aspect is Geneva’s role as the intersection of global trade and diplomacy. The International Labour Organization (ILO), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), World Health Organization (WHO) and more, are all situated there. The city resembles a global town square with dignitaries, government actors, nongovernment workers and activists all converging upon one another. And the pinnacle of this hub is, of course, the UN headquarters.